Actress, producer, director, writer, music director, singer. Is there anything Bhanumathi didn’t try in the field of cinema ?
Born in 1925 in a middle class family from Andhra Pradesh, Bhanumathi grew up learning Carnatic and Hindustani music and thus, entered film industry at the age of 13, thanks to her singing talent. In fact, in times when actresses were above all supposed to be good dancers, she was mocked for her bad skills in dancing but was such an anti conformist that she decided to learn horse riding and sword fighting for her career. After her huge Telugu success, SwargaSeema, she became the first female Superstar in South India and earned more than 25000 rupees per movie, which was enormous for that time.
Even though she had a 60 years long acting career, what impresses me the most is the curiosity and talent she showed for every department of film making. First, she was not only one of the first women directors in India, but her film, Chandirani, was directed in 1953 simultaneously in three languages (Tamil, Telugu and Hindi). Secondly, she was also one of the first women producer in India as she created her own production banner « Bharani pictures » with her husband. Thirdly, thanks to her musical knowledge, she has been a music director and, of course, a singer for so many films. I am still wondering how, against all odds, did this fascinating woman had this courage and this confidence right from the 1940s.
As a matter of fact, in her personal life also, Bhanumathi was modern and anticonformist. Thus, at the age of 18, she was the one who took the lead and proposed to her future husband, Ramakrishna, an assistant director met in 1943, on the set of her film, Krishna Prema. As her father refused the alliance, she eloped to marry the man who become her husband for 40 years.
Obviously, one can assume how this multitalented strange creature also appeared as a threat to men in a male-dominated industry : predictably, her confidence was described as arrogance. For instance, a reporter asked her how it was to be paired with such male Telugu superstars, and she promptly answered that it was them who were pairing with her. What a lovely irreverence.
Yet, although she was the first South Indian actress to receive the Padma Shri title in 1963, she never had the recognition she deserved. Maybe because she was a woman. Maybe because this bird was too free to fit in the little cage, the narrow space left for women in Indian cinema.